Back in 1998, a now disgraced former doctor named Andrew Wakefield published a paper called “Ileal-lymphoid-nodular hyperplasia, non-specific colitis, and pervasive developmental disorder in children”. In it he alleged that the MMR vaccine caused Autism. Eventually it came to light that his paper was at the very least, ethically dubious, at worst, it was discovered that he had published this paper while trying to get his own version of the MMR vaccine patented, a clear conflict of interest when it came to telling the truth.
Unfortunately it was too late, despite the paper being retracted, the damage had been done. Parents became hysterical as more and more stories came out alleging that their children had developed autism after receiving the MMR jab. Simple fact checking and mountains of scientific evidence tell us that no, vaccines do not cause autism, and this is something i could write about at length, but this is not what i want to focus on in this article. What i want to focus on is the inherent ableism in the anti-vax movement, and the damage that it does to the autistic community.
Antivaxxers are terrified of autistic children. referring to them as “vaccine-injured”. On the face of it, one could understand where these parental fear come from. For years, stereotypical representations of autistic children have suggested that they will never live happy and fulfilling lives, leading parents to believe that autism means a life sentence for both children and parents alike. This is clearly wrong on many levels. It is further perpetuated by the use of functioning labels, with those labelled “low-functioning” denied agency and dehumanised at every turn. So called experts (Like Lovaas, who helped to develop the abusive autism treatment known as applied behavioural analysis) have consistently made autistic children out to be animals who require compliance training to stand any hope of fitting in with society.
None of this is an excuse, if these parents would only listen to science and autistic voices, they would know that not only do vaccines not cause autism, but autism is not a bad thing. It is not a word to be said in shame. They wilfully ignore and shout down autistic voices who are fighting for the rights of all autistic children, anti-vax children included. Anti-vaxxers perpetuate the narrative of dehumanising the autistic community by cherry picking the most vulnerable moments in autistic children’s lives and posting them on the internet for the world to see. They send a message that it is better to have a child die of a preventable disease, than for them to be autistic. This ableism is used to justify abusive quack treatments such as MMS (chlorine dioxide) and chelation therapy. Treatments that literally maim and kill autistic people, while offering to “cure” the person of their autism.
Autistic people are not damaged goods to be used by the anti-vax community for the sole purpose of selling fear and lies. We are different, yes, but different is not damaged. Different is not bad. In order to challenge the ableism of the anti-vax movement, people need to start listening to autistic voices. Autistic people need to continue the work of fighting against stigma and stereotypes. We need to spread a positive message, one of acceptance and understanding. Allies of autistic voices need to stand up against the voices of the anti-vax community and tell them that their rhetoric is unacceptable.